If I were back at home, I could have leaned across the aisle and locked gazes with my best girlfriend. Without uttering a word, it would have been obvious that this new teacher was KA-YUTE! Tall and slim with a moustache that could use a bit of a trim, Mr. M was exactly the young newbie sixth grade girls got incurable crushes on. Unfortunately, I was thousands of miles away from home. Although this classroom looked like any other, linoleum floor scarred by years of sneakers scuffing their way across to desks with chairs attached. Blackboards at the front and sides of the room, globe and aquarium in the back of the room. I wore my Levi's 501 jeans, an island in a sea of Wranglers. I didn't own the requisite pair of cowboy boots, nor did I want to, and my purple polo shirt stood out like a pimple on the end of a teenager's nose. I was solidly in the minority here. Man, I wanted to go home.
Somehow the morning passed by and I found myself on the playground with my classmates. We shuffled out into the blazing sunshine, kicking up dust as we made our way toward the metal climbing structure. The boys took off, hollering challenges to each other and began clambering up, oblivious to the blistering temperature of the frame underneath them. The superheated air filled my lungs and they felt heavy. I swiveled my head from side to side, eyes searching for some small patch of shade. Any attempt at making new friends seemed impossible in this harsh environment.
I stood underneath the overhang near the door, eavesdropping on scraps of conversation as they drifted past me. The bricks radiated the sun's heat back at me, but it wasn't enough to push me out into the mix of kids who had known each other their entire lives. One girl with dark, curly hair and a white shirt stood in the middle of the yard, head tipped back. Moments before, I had heard her bragging to another girl that staring directly at the sun for long enough would make you go blind. She was trying to prove her point. I watched her, mesmerized by her determination. My eyes burned for her but she never wavered.
The bell signaled the end of recess. The class came as if drawn by a strong magnet to line up at the door. Mr M. smiled at his brood as we organized ourselves as we'd been taught. I took my place at the end of the queue as he called, "Tina. Come on! Let's go." His smile shrank back underneath his moustache and he took a few tentative steps away from the door. As Tina stumbled slowly in a circle, eyebrows closing in on each other in confusion, his pace quickened. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and led her toward the cool hallway, talking in a low, smooth voice. I forced myself not to overhear. I didn't want to start my school year here like this.